Friday, May 24, 2019

Red Grange makes the Bears Top 100 List in more ways than one

In conjunction with their 100th anniversary, the Chicago Bears have released a list of the top 100 Bears players of all time.

I've appended the list to this post (Hall of Fame members are indicated with "*"). For heated arguments concerning who was overvalued, or undervalued, or wrongly included, or wrongly excluded, turn to the sports radio station of your choice. I am not qualified to contribute meaningfully to that discussion. Still, from an historical perspective, I am surprised that Red Grange is only No. 36 on the list.

College football was far and away the dominant branch of the sport in the early 1920s and Red Grange was at that time the biggest star in the college game.

Pro football may be the biggest sport in America today, but it was then at most a regional sport, and rather disreputable. Players wishing to continue their football careers after college often played under assumed names, so as not to embarrass their families or themselves. Hardly anyone made a living solely from football in those days.

The Chicago Bears may now be one of the most valuable franchises in any sport, but in 1925 the Bears weren't even the dominant pro football team in Chicago. The Chicago Cardinals were the NFL champions that year.

In his history of the Chicago Cardinals, When Football Was Football (Triumph Books, 1999), Joe Ziemba spends a lot of time detailing Grange's decision to turn pro -- recounting how Papa Bear George Halas negotiated with C.C. Pyle, who would become Grange's manager, for Grange to join the Bears immediately after his last college game, play the remaining games on the league schedule, and go off with the team on a nationwide barnstorming tour. Grange would get 30% of the gate receipts, giving him earnings of perhaps $100,000 at a time when most pros did not get $100 a game.

And -- while the contracts weren't actually signed until after his last college game -- these negotiations apparently took place while Grange was still paying football for the University of Illinois. How about that?

Anyway, the tour was a great success, but it was grueling -- there were four games played in one five day stretch toward the end of it -- and Grange was increasingly limited by injury. Ziemba recounts how Pro Football Hall of Famer Jimmy Conzelman, later the coach of the Chicago Cardinals, but then the owner of the Detroit Panthers, had to refund 10,000 tickets after he told the press that Grange would be unavailable for the game with his team. Ziemba quotes from Conzelman's book, Pro Football's Rag Days:
A few hours before the game was about to start, I looked out the window and saw a long line at the box office. I remembered thinking to myself, "What a great sports town. Grange isn't going to play but they're still lining up to buy tickets." Then I got the news from the ticket man. They were lining up to get refunds.
Despite the injuries, the Bears' tour with Grange is widely recognized as putting pro football on the map as a legitimate sport, launching it on the road to the dominance it enjoys today. Grange's signing also tipped the pro football balance of power in the City of Chicago, starting the Cardinals on a long decline and eventual moves to St. Louis and, more recently, Arizona.

(Of course, even the road to fame and fortune has twists and turns: One stop on the barnstorming tour was Washington, D.C. Illinois Senator William B. McKinley took Grange and Halas to the White House to meet President Calvin Coolidge. According to Halas, McKinley said, "Mr. President, this is George Halas and Red Grange of the Chicago Bears." "Glad to meet you fellows," said the President. "I always did like animal acts.")

Although Grange left the Bears to found his own league, he returned when that league folded, playing for the Bears from 1929-1934.

ESPN ranked Grange No. 28 in its list of the Top 50 athletes of the 20th Century. In an online profile preserved as part of this Sports Century Series, Larry Schwartz writes that George Halas said that no player has had a greater impact on the game of football, college or professional, than Red Grange.

The ESPN profile also contains this anecdote from Chris Berman:
I was interviewing George Halas and I asked him who is the greatest running back you ever saw. And he said, "That would be Red Grange." And I asked him if Grange was playing today, how many yards do you think he'd gain. And he said, "About 750, maybe 800 yards." And I said, "Well, 800 yards is just okay." He sat up in his chair and he said, "Son, you must remember one thing. Red Grange is 75 years old."
It in no way diminishes the greatness of the other players on the Bears' Top 100 List to suggest that, without Red Grange, there probably is no list.

The Top 100 Bears of All Time
  1. Walter Payton*
  2. Dick Butkus*
  3. Bronko Nagurski*
  4. Sid Luckman*
  5. Gale Sayers*
  6. Mike Ditka*
  7. Bill George*
  8. Bulldog Turner*
  9. Doug Atkins*
  10. Danny Fortmann*
  11. Dan Hampton*
  12. Richard Dent*
  13. Jimbo Covert
  14. Brian Urlacher*
  15. Mike Singletary*
  16. Bill Hewitt*
  17. Stan Jones*
  18. Jay Hilgenberg
  19. Steve McMichael
  20. Devin Hester
  21. Joe Stydahar*
  22. George Connor*
  23. George McAfee*
  24. Joe Fortunato
  25. Ed Sprinkle
  26. Ed Healey*
  27. Olin Kreutz
  28. Lance Briggs
  29. Rick Casares
  30. Gary Fencik
  31. Charles Tillman
  32. Paddy Driscoll*
  33. George Trafton*
  34. Matt Forte
  35. George Musso*
  36. Red Grange*
  37. George Halas*
  38. Link Lyman*
  39. Harlon Hill
  40. Ken Kavanaugh
  41. Neal Anderson
  42. Richie Petitbon
  43. Wilber Marshall
  44. Johnny Morris
  45. Otis Wilson
  46. Doug Buffone
  47. Dave Duerson
  48. Fred Williams
  49. Ray Bray
  50. Mark Bortz
  51. Keith Van Horne
  52. Joe Kopcha
  53. Jim McMahon
  54. Ed Brown
  55. Johnny Lujack
  56. Roosevelt Taylor
  57. Jim Osborne
  58. Wally Chambers
  59. Julius Peppers
  60. Khalil Mack
  61. Willie Galimore
  62. Robbie Gould
  63. Mike Brown
  64. James Williams
  65. Dick Gordon
  66. Mike Hartenstine
  67. Ed O’Bradovich
  68. Dick Barwegen
  69. Bill Wade
  70. Matt Suhey
  71. Kevin Butler
  72. Mark Carrier
  73. Tommie Harris
  74. Kyle Long
  75. Akiem Hicks
  76. J.C. Caroline
  77. Bennie McRae
  78. Donnell Woolford
  79. Dennis McKinnon
  80. Alshon Jeffery
  81. Brandon Marshall
  82. George Blanda*
  83. Willie Gault
  84. Tom Thayer
  85. Jay Cutler
  86. Allan Ellis
  87. Luke Johnsos
  88. Joey Sternaman
  89. Mike Pyle
  90. Beattie Feathers
  91. Bob Wetoska
  92. Bill Osmanski
  93. Herman Lee
  94. Jim Dooley
  95. Larry Morris
  96. Eddie Jackson
  97. Bobby Joe Green
  98. Trace Armstrong
  99. Doug Plank
  100. Patrick Mannelly

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Time heals another wound: White Sox to give away Disco Demolition t-shirts on June 13

Robert Feder reports this morning that the Chicago White Sox will soon give away 10,000 t-shirts commemorating the 40th anniversary of Disco Demolition.

The Sox have been doing a t-shirt giveaway during Thursday home games for some time now, and some of the t-shirts have been pretty nice. You have to have nice promotions when you're rebuilding, as the Sox are.

I wouldn't know personally, but I bet that a certain North Side baseball club had sweet promotions when it was rebuilding a few years back. Now I think fans entering Wrigley might get a commemorative tissue paper, if that certain North Side baseball club bothers to have any promotions at all. And, if it does have a Tissue Paper Night, it's a cinch that the certain North Side baseball club will collect a king's ransom from the sponsor who gets to put its name somewhere on said tissue paper. I look forward to the day, hopefully soon, when the White Sox can also have crumby promotions.

Anyway, that's the t-shirt, pictured above, and one may be yours if you are one of the first 10,000 arriving for the Thursday, June 13 game (first pitch at 7:10 p.m. against the hated New York Yankees) at Guaranteed Rate Field. Steve Dahl is scheduled to throw out the first pitch. All is finally forgiven.

What's to forgive, you ask?

The Detroit Tigers were in town for a doubleheader on Thursday, July 12, 1979.

Between games, Dahl, then the enfant terrible morning jock at WLUP, was to lead his Coho Lips Army onto the field to blow up a cache of disco records. The records were to be supplied by fans, who could get general admission tickets that night for only 98¢ apiece (get it?) if they also brought a disco record.

(I'll pause here while the Baby Boomers and the hipsters in the audience explain what a "record" is to those in the Millennial and Gen-Z cohorts who may not know.)

Old Comiskey had a capacity of about 50,000 in those days; that night there were perhaps 70,000 in the house. Many got in without paying even 98¢.

Although I was a frequent patron at Old Comiskey in the Summer of '79, I was not there that night. I was in law school then, still living with my parents, watching the broadcast on Channel 44. Harry Caray and Jimmy Piersall were doing the Sox games in those days. After the records were blown up (a very big explosion in center field, which by itself probably jeopardized the second game of the twin bill), thousands of drunken kids stormed the field -- and I remember Piersall, who almost sounded like he was crying, shouting, "This is not baseball!"

And it wasn't. Ultimately, though the field was finally cleared, it was unplayable, and the White Sox were obliged to forfeit Game 2.

The whole sorry spectacle, as originally broadcast on Channel 44, was available for some time on YouTube. Sadly, it seems to have been removed. I was, however, able to find this ESPN coverage of the debacle.

Although I wasn't at Disco Demolition, I was at the park three times that same week. Twice before, and once after.

It was a lot more fun before.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Survey says... just about everything these days

Late last week I attended a breakfast at Elmhurst College. The breakfast was provided as a reward to persons who'd volunteered as mentors, provided internships, interviewed students for actual post-graduation jobs, or otherwise participated in the school's professional development program. (I was invited because I had participated in one panel discussion for pre-law students -- no, it wasn't much of a contribution -- but, then, I took only one small sweet roll and a cup of coffee at the breakfast, so I wasn't dramatically over-compensated.)

Anyway, the college used the breakfast to roll out a portion of a survey it had commissioned from some international research group, trying to find out what Elmhurst students were looking for in a job or career, what they valued in an employer, how they responded to different sorts of interviews, and how Elmhurst students were the same as (and different from) their counterparts in other schools around the country.

I was, as usual, confused by all this. Who cares what employers are most "attractive" to college students? Sophomores in college may imagine themselves able to choose from among a variety of civic-minded corporate citizens for their future career. College seniors are grateful to find a job, any job, even with the Warts-And-All Corporation, particularly if said job pays enough to make the payments on their student loans. After a few months on the couch back home, college graduates may find hitherto unimagined virtues in an offer, any offer, even from Polluters-R-Us.

I don't understand the value of uninformed opinions. After all, we lawyers wait until after jurors have heard the evidence before we ask them what they thought of our case. (Yes, yes, we begin 'educating' prospective jurors about our view of the case in voir dire -- but that merely proves my point: From the beginning of our trials we do our best to create informed jurors, informed as we would have them informed, whose properly informed opinions will, therefore, be favorable to us when we seek those opinions at the end of the case.)

Anyway, I don't understand surveys generally.

I have come to the conclusion that this may be a generational thing.

As a Baby Boomer, reared on the wit and wisdom of Mike Royko, I was taught to never answer a pollster and, if forced to answer, to lie.

My Millennial children, on the other hand, will not make any significant purchase without scouring the on-line reviews.

I have attempted to see what they see in these. But what I've seen, when I've read on-line reviews, are wildly divergent statements, half apparently written by the seller's mother, half written by the seller's competitors.

And one cannot buy so much as a package of shoelaces without being invited to participate in a survey about the quality of the service provided.

I generally decline the invitation. I paid for the shoelaces, didn't I? If I don't return them, my opinion of them must have been favorable, right? If I return to the store, whether for more shoelaces, or for wholly different sundries, doesn't that alone say something about my opinion of the service provided?

I don't understand why we care so much about what people say they think. It seems to me so much more important to look at what people do. I don't care if my client says that I am the greatest lawyer since Darrow -- what really matters to me is whether said client honors my bill upon presentation.

In other words, I understand data-gathering and using that data to predict how people may behave in future. But I see only the most limited value in surveying people about their actions, or their opinions. Because people lie, often to themselves. They may say what they think their questioner may want to hear (or, if they are the contrary sort, what they think the questioner may not want to hear). It has been my observation that people often say one thing, but do another.

This is a topic I earnestly wish to discuss with people who live and die with surveys. Like political consultants. It is a topic I hope to return to at a future date.